It is a stereotype in America that we don't know our neighbors very well. We might wave at them as we leave for work or even converse over the fence for a short while, but most of us couldn't tell you their names, their profession or their interests. Gardening, though, can be a way to bring your neighborhood closer together. A common interest in landscaping, raising vegetables or growing roses could be just the thing to jump-start your conversations. Why not give it a try?
A Lovely Garden
One great way to create more interaction with your neighbors is to create something wonderful. Our front garden is fairly basic in my eyes, but when the azalea bushes are in bloom or the roses all pop at once, I can see people stop to enjoy the view as they walk by. Once you have caught your neighbors' attention, make a point of being out in your garden during those times of day when your neighbors are about. In our area the typical, post-work, dog walking hours between 6 and 7 p.m. are great for this. You get a chance to chat people up and it also gives you a great excuse - should you need one - to do a little work in the garden. Having something to talk about often breaks the ice between strangers and your garden is always a conversation starter.
In my own neighborhood, we have stopped to talk with one neighbor who has converted her entire front yard into a productive vegetable garden and another who recently had a water collecting swale installed and subsidized by our local Department of Water and Power. In my blog, you will often see photos of flowers and plants from around the neighborhood and I often end up in conversations with people when I stop to take my photos. Don't underestimate the power of your garden to help you get to know your neighbors a little better.
The Garden Club
If you find that you have a few avid gardeners in your neighborhood, why not get together for an informal party where you can talk about gardening and the neighborhood. You might find that even a small group will gradually grow as everyone gets to know everyone else a bit better. Who knows, this could even lead to a neighborhood-based Open Garden Day, or garden parties where each person can invite the group in for a look-see to gain new ideas for their own garden. You never know what secret garden might exist behind your neighbor's gate. I have seen koi ponds, lovely collections of Japanese maples, riots of colorful flowers and some of the most pristine lawns you could ever imagine. For many gardeners, the front yard is their conservative, public, gardening face while the backyard is where they "let their hair down!"
A neighborhood gardening club can also take on some of the good work of the old-fashioned "Welcome Wagon" in greeting new residents and helping them through the first few months of their new home. In my case, when I inherited this 10-year-old garden, I was able to spend some time with the previous owners to discuss plant identification, care and feeding, but this is rare for most homeowners. Many show up and have no idea what this tree or that plant requires. The gardening club can offer a helping hand with this gardening info, but also help to ease their entry into the neighborhood.
Thy Brother's Keeper
There are some times when we could all use a little help in our lives. These times are often reflected in our yards and gardens. When a neighbor is burdened with sickness, old age or, in the current economy, mortgage problems, we can all help out - and we should learn to ask for help from our neighbors. When times are hard, paying the local gardening company to "mow and blow" can become an extra burden and the neighbor's home suffers as a result. Neighbors can and should band together to offer help to those in the neighborhood who are less fortunate. Yes, sometimes your assistance may be rejected, but that is no good reason to stop offering. There are others who will gladly welcome the help, in whatever form you can provide.
I know that when I was growing up in my small hometown in rural Ohio, if someone was sick or had other family problems, one way we could and would always help was stopping by to give the lawn a quick trim or neaten the shrubs with our trimmer. In our case, this help would often just appear without any request from the person at all. In a small town, we tended to know who needed help quickly. In bigger cities, it is always best to ask before assisting someone with their garden, but I think you will find many who will be visibly relieved at the offer.
Gardening reaches so far beyond simply planting a few shrubs or vegetables. Gardening opens up our lives to others and their lives to us. It can spur great conversations and close relationships between neighbors. It can remind us that we move through this life together no matter how solitary our day-to-day life might be. The next time you are out in your neighborhood, use the gardens as an entry point into the lives of your neighbors. I guarantee that you will be surprised what you find there.